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It's All In Your Handshake
On the King's Highway, a group of scruffy looking (but still more polished) soliders ride up to your group in a solid canter. You all are tired from the forced march of yesterday (and today).

They pull up short of you, and you hear one of them mutter to the others: "It's that group of bandits we was told about, the ones with the dragonborn and all sorts of freaks." The leader stands up and, through cupped hands, shouts: "All of you, put your weapons down. You are bound by law for highway robbery and murder. If you don't resist, we promise you a fair trial."

Therin was taking his turn scouting when the patrol caught up with the main group. Deciding that it was best not to interfere at the moment, he attempts to remain inconspicuous and wait to see how the situation unfolds.

Sam is getting the weirdest feeling... the soldiers' eyes are continuously moving, trying to probe and poke through our disguises I am not disguised I am Sam I am human —

Sam shakes his head. The soldiers look like they think we're trying to pull something off. But we're not. (Hm. This is novel.) So we should probably have nothing to fear from them, given that we're not who they're looking for...

And what's with that guy's obsession with Squeaky's feet, anyway? Does he think — of course, whoever they're looking for must have a halfling with them.

He taps Squeaky on the shoulder. "Think they're honest. Show you're gnome. Cart suspicious."

Rihkim studies the troops and notices a marking on one of their sleeves, he then recalls a bit of information he knows will be helpful when dealing with these men. This week's password for the realm. He quickly glances over at Beale and whispers the thought quietly in his mind, "The password they seek for this week is a challenge-response. Challenge them with Dragon, they should reply with River if they are really this kings men. Then, you must respond with Wyrm."

He starts standing a bit more rigidly, making himself a bit taller and staring at the leader, thinking the best way to deal with these men is to not show weakness of any kind.

As the soldiers approach, the bard places his hand over the guitar-strings, and strums a sonorous chord - a clarion call to battle, the first few notes of a famous ballad known as the King's Last Stand. He infuses those notes with a thread of arcane magic, making them ring out clearly through the forest.

"Hail, and well met, soldiers of the king!" calls the gnome, his voice infused with the magic of the spell. "I am Private Beale Ludlow, of the King's Fifth Regiment! I may be a bandit," he strums an off-color chord, to emphasize the jest in his words, "but I most certainly will not surrender to my comrades-in-arms!" He mutes the guitar-strings. "Would you happen to know the response to "Dragon"?"

The captain of the patrol scratches his head and checks the rather large sword at his side, unconsciously sliding it an inch out of its sheath and then letting it drop back in. "Now, how'd you know a thing like that? We don't tell just anyone who crosses the river about our challenges. What kind of countersign were you expecting?"

Master Chief steps forward, from where he'd previously been in the rear of the party. Standing up to his full height of six-foot six, he towers above most of the soldiers in the Patrol, yet still has to look up to their seven-foot tall leader.

He bellows back to the Captain, "What fools do you take us for, who would reveal to complete strangers the entirety of our handshake protocol? Pray tell, what sort of countersign were you planning on giving?"

As Master Chief shouts, the humid forest air catches and coalesces a bit of his acidic breath, which sizzles as it reaches the ground.

Squeaky stares over at the dragonborn incredulously as the big fighter starts yelling at the other troupe. "Shut up, Wyrm! They gave the proper callsign." A strum of his guitar amplifies the counter-sign with a thread of magic.
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Patching a Cart, and Marching Along
The cultist had been secured. Professionally. The horse calmed, and the wagon pulled from the now quite obvious hole. There was a tunnel down there, stretching both directions. Looks like the rain had weakened the top and the wagon was, well, the last straw.

A thorough investigation of the cart turned up a sack with 250 sp in it, and the cart is well made for all that the wheel fell off. It's probably worth around 20 gp. The horse is a fine draft horse, worth 75gp.

The corroded remains of the cube still contain the tell-tale colours (mainly as chromatic abberations in the refraction of light through the cube) of a binding ritual. That what was once in the cube was freed and now... well, the shards are kind of pretty?

A short interrogation of the cultst, name of "Jack the butcher" on account of "well, I mainly made sausage, but did the odd cold cut now and then."

"This trader, you see. Master Pung. Well, he said a god was speaking to him, and well, he had the general store next to me. I kinda thought he was onto something, maybe get in on the ground floor of a new temple, sort of thing?"

"So the god told him to wander this way and well, we followed. I have to say, my sausages kept on the journey quite well. Delicious too..."

"So that's um, that's about it really... um... didn't mean to harm no-one... So can I go now? I wonder if ma still has the store..."

Squeaky settles down next to the prisoner, one's the battle's died. He plays a quiet, soothing strum on his guitar, to break the ice. He seats himself there for a few minutes, chatting away with the prisoner. It seems like the guy didn't mean any harm. Nah, it's fine. No hard feelings. Sometimes life just throws you a curveball. But, hey... maybe if Jack pitches in to get the cart patched up, we can help get him on his way.

The prisoner listens to the friendly words of squeaky, and on his personal assurance that helping out with the cart will get things sorted out, Jack the butcher lends his strength to lifting the heavy wood.

Rihkim looks around as everyone else sets off on a task, then looks to the man in yellow, he pulls him aside from the rest of the group into the woods and draws a rough circle around him in the dirt, marking corners with various magic symbols.

He goes through the woods and picks a few choices pieces of grass, tree, and feathers and places them into the circle at his hands, feet, and head. He then stands over the man, inside the circle, hands out, palms down and starts a low rhythmic chant. It takes several minuets of chanting and focus, the body slowly lifts off of the ground ever so slightly and then glows for an instant, all of the wounds on the body seem to freeze and a little color returns to the skin.

He then quickly destroys the circle he had built and brings the body back to the rest of the group. "That should make him last until we get where we are going, what else needs to get done?"

It is early. Rihkim is considering the nature of plants.

Marching along, he starts darting his eyes off into the bushes. And... there, he's spotted a small bush with little orange berries. He grabs a few, squishing them in his hand, and examines the seeds. Thus satisfied, he pulls off two large handfuls of the berries and brings them back, heading to Eagle Eye.

"I think these are medicinal. From what I remember, they should ease the burn. Make sure they are not poisonous to your kind before they are distributed."

This done, he turns to the issue of his pack. This is easy: simply levitate it ever so slightly, making the march a little easier.

Sam chooses this moment to pop out of the trees, and Therin nods and slips off without a word. The party stops; five minutes' rest. Sam had explained this plan last night, with the aid of dirt drawings and Squeaky's translation: they scout in shifts. Scouting is slower than a hard march, so the scout moves off ahead while the rest of the party rests. Then, they march again, and when they catch up, the shifts cycle.

Since the party would have wanted frequent rests anyway, this lets scouting happen and builds in a mechanism to limit rest periods, and so raises the effective speed.

It is a bit later, and Rihkim has noticed an unutilised resource. "Some of you are slowing us down, and we have a cart. We can take shifts riding. Squeaky, could you?"

"Sure." Squeaky sits up on the dragonborn's shoulders, where he'd been riding the past several hours, and gives him a pat on the head. "Thanks, big guy." He scrambles down, and clambers into the cart. Once he's situated, he readies his guitar.

Duhm... duhm... duhmmm... duhm. The bard sets the pace of the march, the guitar strings playing around a steady baseline, spurring his companions onward, keeping everyone moving in time. The tune is low, like the sizzle in the air before a storm, laced with haunting touches of wind-sound rattling intermittently across the baseline. The song swells at the first bridge, like a rising gale

"One more road.... (duhm duhm)
The city isn't far. (duhm duhm)
On we go.... (duhm duhm)
When the sun burns down, (da-duhm) we'll find a guiding star (duhm duhm).
The shadows reach, (duh-daaah dah-duh-da-duhm)
And we find ourselves alone. (dah-duh-da-duhm)
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Cultists, Ants, and a Wisp
Hidden. Such a great word. Sam couldn't resist launching his backstab then. Just ... so very right. A dagger, from no-where, lands in the yellow robed gent's back and he screams the word "wisdom" with pain. The man has fast reactions though and doesn't seem particularly put out by the throw, dropping the rains while clutching whatever he's holding (maybe something shiny? Looks like glass...) to his breast.

Taking the sign of the scream that "hostilities have commenced" the ever-ready Eagle eye, launches a volley of arrows, putting an arrow straight through each shoulder of the large man in front of him who drops to the ground, screaming in pain.

Serai, sprinting out of the forest at the harmony of screams, hacks at another one of the large men, who falls with a large wound to the gut. His whsipered "I still believe... master" At that, the yellow robe man takes a step backwards, almost as if he didn't want to get blood on his robes...

Taking the yellow-robed one's movement as a cue, the rest of the party rushes in.

Another dagger sails out of the bushes and hits the same spot as the first dagger, forming a nice "V" in the man's chest.

A V of steel, gushing heart's blood.

Serai, walking neatly past the dropped man, channels arcane energy into her sword. A pattern of frost crystals crackles along the blade as she swings it at another one. The man parries the first stroke, parries the second stroke, dodges the third.... ignorant of the frost that had attached itself to his blade, lunging down the sword and encasing his body in a small shell of ice.

The man inside, screaming mutely through a mask of ice.

Tripping daintily through the forest, eagle-eye pushes his way through the brambles. His first shot neatly intersecting a pinecone that dropped from the tree, hitting the man weakly in the chest.

The second arrow followed the same path as the first, without any kind of annoying pinecones getting in the way, neatly jutting out of the man's chest. The man in yellow looked as if he wanted to move, but restrained himself.

Taking advantage of the elf's distraction, Sam fades quietly into the forest....

Finally, the rest of the squad, almost shocked at the sudden spate of violence, rushes in.

Marching briskly forward, only slightly hindered by the large log in the way, Chief cuts down another one of the burly men, ignoring the man's half-hearted slice and slicing at his kneecap in an efficient and brutal way.

Then, turning, inhaling, Zankul blew out a cloud of green, corrosive acid, disolving the wagon's canvas covering and barely reaching the man in yellow who, unthinking holds out his hands to ward it away from him.

This... this was a mistake.

The glass cube in one of his hands, somehow rotten from the inside, needed only the touch of corrosion present in the breath to shatter.

From the glass, a pale whisp of blue-green smoke, looking ... somehow... hungry... emerges.

The shardmind, reaching out with his mind, attempts to trip the last man on the ground, but his focus is distracted by the sheer chaotic malevolence eminating from the whisp of hungry hungry smoke.

The gnome launches into a wild, rapid-fire electric tune, hammering down on the strings of his axe. The roll of heavy metal makes the world around him seem to bend - and a wave of shimmering magic rushes towards the yellow-robed figure. The world, bending, is twisted even more horrifically by the smoke, and the magic is somehow... consumed.

The cultist still up rushes around the horse, swinging at Serai with all of his might.

He connects! The strength of insanity breaks through her measured defenses, inflicting a nasty gash on her left arm.

Strange rumblings come from underground

Distracting from that however is the absolutely shocked scream coming from the man in yellow.

"NO! It was never supposed to be like this! You were supposed to teach me the hidden wisdom! It was a trap for them, not for us!"

Taking a quick step, he grabs a chain from the seat and swings wildly around him

The chain whistles over the horse's head, is quickly ducked by Serai, and firmly entangles itself in the whisp.

The wisp seems more confused than injured though, as it lunges through the chain onto the man in yellow's body

Entering the man, the his body jerks in uncontrolled spasms until it falls, seemingly dead, leaving the wisp floating... where the man's heart used to be.

Somehow, despite just feeding, the wisp still looks ... insatiably hungry.

At the same time, the screaming, maimed, and injured men scattered around the wagon, seeing their master fall, give up hope, and all, almost in unison, quietly breath their last. The last of the cultists is just staring with wide, wide eyes. Almost as if his whole universe has, once again, upset itself.

At that moment of quiet, the ground around the wagon... almost melts into the earth, the mud falling into an excavated tunnel, springing a wheel off the wagon.

A huge, vicious, ant climbs out of the hole.

Almost face to face with a rather flustered Sam

After the Man In Yellow falls, Master Chief mutters to himself, "Stupid cultic freaks, always got to be messing with something that's going to kill them, and then become someone else's problem."

Upon seeing the Ant rise from the ground, Master Chief then exclaims, "What the un-holy Hell?!?! Hang tight, Sam! I'm on the way!"

Sam almost screeches, reeling back from the ant... thing... that had just found his hiding place so goddamn well. He ran through his options... nope, nope, nope. Maybe he should just run...

And then he hears the Chief's roar and feels hope claw back into his heart. To hell with that, these things need to die.

Zankul needs to get on that wagon to help Sam, and fast. Too close for a standing jump, he considers how he could get enough momentum for a running leap. Then, he remembers a trick from his sailing days. He starts his sprint northward, away from the cart. Then, he plunges his sword through the corpse of a nearby cultist and into the ground. Using the sword as leverage, he flings himself through a 135-degree turn before pulling it out and leaping onto the cart.

This move however, while strategic, cost him some stability. His landing somewhat shaky, he quickly turns it into a roll to stand flanking the Ant with Sam

Having arrived next to two foes, Master Chief decides to go after the one most likely to actually feel his blade. He strategically feints toward the Wisp before coming around to slice at the Ant, knocking it slightly off-guard. Now if it should move, Sam will be perfectly set up to strike against it.

The blade thrust, once, like a viper, cutting into the Ant's chitin like it was butter. Off balance between two foes, the ant readied itself to attack.

Zankul then turns moment to contemplate the Wisp, "What in the name of Bahamut is that thing?" He doesn't know, but the Wisp does seem self-aware, and aware that its self is hungry.

Sam takes a moment to steady himself. Okay, where have you seen this before... oh, right, there was that zoo. Crap.

He speaks, his voice loud, sharp, clipped. "Hive soldier. Grabs; acids. Carrion. Swarm on soldier death. Others around. Hive near."

Okay. I think I know what to do. Attack *there*, where the chitin joins together. That was a weak point, right?

...No, no it is not. My bloody rapier just glanced off! And it's looking at me... Okay, screw this. Back to basics: aim for the eyes.

Aaaaand... *yes*.

Sam grins smugly.

The ant let out a steam-whistle hiss, acidic gobules flying from its mouth, an eye hanging loose from its socket. You've angered it.

Rihkim takes a step forward to get a better view of the battle ahead, staring intently at the wisp, almost positive he has read something out their kind in a book or gleaned something from a crystal of knowledge. After which he reaches out with his mind, bracing himself and pouring a lot more into this attack that he's comfortable with, forced to use a phsyical motion of his arm to help him channel the ability he trys to drag the wisp infront of the Tiefling and tear it asunder at the same time.

A psychic scream emanates from the fell taint lurker as invisible bonds of force, dripping with purple ectoplasm reach out of the sentient body of crystals known to... the mortals of this plane at least... as Rihkim. Despite the overwhelming force, the purple bands somehow... reach through the taint instead of wrapping around it lethally.

A flash of knowledge over his face, he shouts "Hit it now, you can only hurt it after it eats a corpse, and what ever you do don't let it touch you or you wont be able to move!"

As the fell taint is being pulled, Sam takes advantage of the lull and climbs onto the wagon, sneaking past when even the ant is distracted.

Hearing Rikhim's shouted instructions, Eagle Eye sprints out of the woods across the back side of the wagon easily jumping the 2 dead thugs. He focuses on the Wisp and lets two arrows fly...

The wisp, injured from the psychokinetic trap, is trailing two smaller lines of tainted smoke from its main body. Thinking them vulnerable places, Eagle-eye easily puts an arrow through the center of each line of smoke. There is no visible harm, however.

As the wisp shrugs off Squeaky's opening movement, the wild music bridges into a staccatto, upbeat jab. The gnome calls out in a hearty baritone, emphasizing the words with pointed notes of mockery!

"I'm just a bag of air
...Broken outta my jar!
Wheeere did I come from?
Nobody cares, or knows!
I have to dri-i-ift... the way the wind blows!"

Somehow, despite having a remarkably large hole in his chest, a few slivers of life still cling to the man who used to be robed in yellow. His lungs laboured to breathe and bloody spittle flecked his lips. Those near him could hear a faint laughter/cough as he enjoyed the killing joke of the gnome.

Raising her sword, rather dramatically, Serai chants in an ancient and forgotten tongue. "Vaul" A glowing rune appears to the north. "Aesh." a rune to the east. "Krau" south, "Naen" West. The runes deformed, forming a torus of four colours, blending into each other in a chaotic and yet somehow ultimately controlled way.

A tentril of azure power leaped from the circle and crackled onto the last minion's brow. The cultist, frozen with terror, barely even tried to dodge as the will to be awake was expunged from his brain.

Emerald created another net around the wisp of smoke, close-spaced bands crackling with arcane fury.

Molten gold filled the interstitial gaps, sealing the wisp's doom. Vivid bands of crimson, looped once, twice, around the whole ball.

Then... tightened.

When the runic structure opened, there was nothing inside except a psychic legacy of hunger, which itself dissipated on the slight breeze.

Almost as an afterthought, Serai vaulted onto the wagon's seat and drew a quick sigil in the air at the ant. Glowing the same crimson as the final strike, it flew at the ant, and... floated sedately in the air above it... waiting.

In pain, the ant snaps at sam, catching only bits of wood in its quite cruel mandibles.

With a slight rustle of moved dirt, an ant emerges next to Eagle eye, right on top of the dead minion.

Sam saw the other ant crawl out next to Therin, and immediately thought three things.
1) That is an ant.
2) This is also an ant.
3) Thus, that is also going to be a difficult opponent.

So, he slipped over to that corner of the wagon, called on his race's control over their body to feint wickedly, and sliced.

...Wait, what? Sliced? That... the ant lay there, sliced right in two, the chitin having offered next to no resistance. He would've just had to step on it! That...

That was a complete waste of a good rapier thrust, if nothing else.

And now the other ant, the actually difficult opponent, is screeching. Loudly. Dangerously. Need to shut it up.

Sam slipped back to that corner of the wagon, pointing, threatening...

Sam slipped back to the other corner and hopped off the wagon, pointing, threatening...

With little more than a glance at the ant, Rihkim reaches out with his mind, anchoring his grasp on the creatures mandibles. He pulls one to the east, and the other west, the cracking of the chitin is heard as the force manages to break the animals hide and leave it lifeless as it's mouth parts fly into the bushes.

With chittering screams of rage, 6 ants burrow up from underneath the weak soil, attacking the tresspassers over their tunnel, trying to flank the trespassers near the hole.

Zankul watches as the insects keep coming from the ground. "For crying out loud, this ain't no picnic here!"

As the wisp disappears, Squeaky starts into a triumphant finale, his fingers flying over the frets. The song is broken when new enemies burst from the ground! The gnome launches a wave of sound over them, playing a single high note to burst the ear-membranes of the nearest ant and drive it back into the ground.

A pink haze passes over the ant, and when it passes the group sees that the two antennae that would be receiving sound... have fallen off. You've heard of stuff like this happening, the chaos scar taints monsters in unusual ways, mutating them for unknown... and evil... ends.

Squeaky gives it all he's got, hurling another wave of raw, unadulterated sound and magic at the beast. It may not be able to hear that note, but he can kick up the bass and make the ant feel it. The ant screeches in agony, bowled backwards by the sheer force of the music. It crashes into the brush by the side of the wagon. Six big, ugly ant legs stick up from the bushes, twitching violently in the air for a moment before curling up and going still.

With the ant removed from behind him, the intrepid elf took a quick step backwards and launched two razor sharp arrows, neatly beheading two ants at the same time.

Zankul, readying an expert stroke with the sword, stabbed downwards. It's a shame that, at just that moment, one of the wheels of the wagon gave a creaking "sproing" and the entire assembly, wagon and soldiers on top of it, lurched downwards, neatly trimming some of the hairs off of the ant's leg.

Stepping daintily away from the ant, Serai waggled her cloven hoof in insouciant challenge to the hive ant. Unable to resist such a hoofed morsel, the ant nipped forward, taking a very lovely bite out of her hoof.

Unfortuntely, with the wagon losing a wheel and the ant hanging onto her hoof, Serai tumbled ass-over-teakettle into the cluttered and poorly balanced bed. The wagon gave a very loud warning creaaaaaaak as she tumbled.

Face contorted in fury, an ancient and instinctive epithet escaped her mouth and quite literally turned the air blue with an infernal curse.

The dry and now quite dessicated husk of the ant, with a nice bit of hoof still in its mouth, floated back down to earth: the fury of the nine hells was nothing to trifle with, even attenuated as it was.

Two quick slices of her blade in the bed of the wagon carved a crude rune into the air, producing a bolt of jagged green lightning that just wanted to "reach out and touch somebody"

So it did.

It's a shame the ant couldn't reciprocate the affection.

The last ant standing picked up the dead body underneath it and tried to burrow back down into the ground...

When he'd moved to provide a flanking position against the Soldier Ant, Sam had been calm. When it'd died and called out *six* other ants to flank him and Therin, he'd been ridiculously scared. This-is-not-what-I-signed-on-for scared. I'm-surrounded-by-acid-munching-creeps scared.

When the rest of the party had made good and crushed five of the ants from around him, he'd been relieved, and gained resolve. This is why it was good to have people around who would watch your back. This is why it was good to watch their backs in turn. And by Naixa, those ants had it coming.

And so, when the remaining ant took the slightest bit of its attention off his rapier, he had a grin on his face...
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Approaching a Clearing
With two people sneaking through the forest as advance scouts, travel is slow, but much more sure. The day passes quietly, with a fresh breeze at your backs (carrying only the tiniest hint of magic) making the marching less difficult. Sap-smeared Sam and Eagle Eye join you for a cold lunch. The rations are … rations. Cold monkey on a stick. (Monkey is dried and jerked meat pressed with dried fruit and corn. Everything a body needs, but boy does it get old.) But the feeling of relaxing near a quiet brook does restore the slight fatigue of the first 5 hours of march.

The next 3 hours continue without incident, the songs of birds and other woodland creatures hunting each other, fleeing from each other, warning each other off, and occasionally simply living in the woods following you in a quiet symphony of nature.

Later in the afternoon, the two advance scouts come upon a clearing off the road, it looks like it’s regularly used as a campsite as the wagon ruts leading off the road have been well established, and are quite deep now due to the muddy ground from recent rains. The two scouts, still independent, see a man in a clearing sitting on a peddler’s wagon, dressed in dirty yellow robes, urging an obstinate horse to “Pull, damn you.”

Six burly men, dressed in peasant clothes are pushing on the sides and back of the wagon, trying to break it out of a mud hole. Judging from the half-broken down campsite, they discovered the sunken wagon as they were getting ready to leave. Judging from the amount of mud over everything, they’ve been at this for quite some time.

The task isn’t being helped by the fact that the yellow robed man is only using one hand for the reins, holding … something else with his other.

What do you do?

Sam sneaks back to the main group to report to the Sgt.

The main group is around 200 meters away, on the main road, separated by thick woods from the campsite. You all have just learned the above description. You’re pretty sure that they don’t have scouts out and aren’t looking like they expect trouble.

One of the six men is sitting on a fallen tree, nursing what seems to be a sprained ankle.

There are two “easy” routes into the campsite. The track from the road is ovbious, or you could circle through the forest (N part of the map) and enter through a slightly lighter patch of woods. There are harder routes, of course, but those take skill … or luck.

(Sam’s report is the reason why the group learned the description)

Serai: “Sam, any indication of which side they were on?”

Sam shrugs. “Peasant clothes. No marks. Wagoneer had yellow robes; no visible id.”

Zankul: “Sam, do you think they might be keen on us helping them? They may know what’s been happening on this road recently. Could give us tips to where the ambushes are.”

Serai: "Or they could be an ambush, or otherwise undesirable "

Sam: “Maybe, Chief. Could also be ambush themselves.”

Zankul: “We probably won’t need everyone to help. A few of us could hang back, just within shouting distance.”

“No information. Not getting information this way. Counter-ambush?”

“Indeed. Sam, you and I will sneak back in.”

“Zankul, Squeaky, and Rihkim, keep your ears to the ground.”

Squeaky stoops over theatrically, holding out his hand beside his ear. “Yes, Sir.”

Zankul rolls his eyes slightly. “Yes… Sir.”

Serai turns and slips quietly into the brush “I want you to come out close to the robed one Sam”

Sam: “Recommend shardmind walks in, tries to help. Get them to react… Chief, too.”

Serai looks at Sam “Use them as bait?”

Zankul: “If it’s not an ambush, I can probably pull the wagon out myself.”

Sam replies to the Sergeant, “Kinda. … Yes. If trouble, we’re there.”

Serai: “You really want to help don’t you? Fair enough, you two can play helpful. Squeaky, if you see us getting flanked play one note on that head-splitter of yours”

“Are we ready now, or does anyone else want to make a plan” Serai says icily.

Zankul: “Thank you, sir.”

Sam turns up the corner of his mouth, and nods at Squeaky, Chief, Rihkim. He then turns and slips into the trees. “Five minutes.”

Serai turns and slides into the brush … again

Squeaky plays a slow tap on the guitar-strings, keeping a barely-audible rhythm. One -two -three -four -five….

Sam guides Serai to where he last saw Therin.

The man in yellow robes sees the 4 soldiers enter from the road, missing the two that sneaked around behind him. He looks up at you: 'Stop them! They have trapped us here! It is they who seek the hidden wisdom!'
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Quarreling Among the Ranks
“Come on, guys!” Squeaky skips a half-step ahead, and strikes a hopefully-dramatic chord on his ax. A brief flourish of magic dances up from the strings, lighting the nearest trees with an unearthly, flickering glow, fading softly into the darkness as he releases the note. “We’ve got hot meals, and soft beds, waiting – for someone else.” The note strikes flat, and the glow flashes purple-red, before sputtering out.

Master Chief trudges on with the rest of the party, grumbling something about “bait” and “being helmets on a stick” or some other thing. All the while he remains vigilant, scanning the roads ahead and looking deep into the trees that surround. He watches, unamused, as the gnome prances ahead of the group while strumming his magical stringed axe.

After a quick look back to check the party’s rear, Master Chief glances at the group’s leader. “Sergeant, perhaps we may be wise to assign one or two of the more inconspicuous members of our group, to spread out a little into the trees. They may be more useful there, as a counter-ambush if needed.”

Sam peers into the trees, and looks back at Chief and nods. He taps Therin, points left, and heads right.

He blends into the trees, becoming near-invisible in the dense foliage.

Squeaky starts to play the first few notes of the tip-toe sneaking theme, tine with Sam’s steps… do-do-doo! – and then stops, and gets quiet. His dark little eyes peer out into the road ahead.

Master Chief notices the gnome’s pause, and looks ahead as well but sees nothing of interest. “What are you looking at, Squeaky? There’s nothing there! Let’s keep moving so we can get this march over with, and the Lieutenant can have his precious bed and breakfast.”

“It always creeps me out, a bit, when those guys disappear,” the gnome tells the tall one. “Makes me thing someone’s going to jump out of the dark and clobber me. Usually, it’s Sam.” He makes the last remark just a little bit louder.

Finally becoming overwhelmed with his irritation at Squeaky’s carelessness, Master Chief steps ahead of him, then whirls around and stoops so that the two are face-to-face, nose-to-nose.

The dragonborn speaks softly, but with such tone that he may as well have been roaring in the gnome’s face.

“Now you listen here, you little pipsqueak! I don’t know if you’ve cared to notice, but we’ve been sent out here as ambush bait! While it would much befit our purpose in this mission to trigger any surprise attack that may await us around that corner, I for one am more in favor of survival. So, if you don’t mind, I suggest you pipe it down and let the boys do their jobs without having their cover blown! Otherwise, Sam isn’t the only one you’ll have to be worried about out here!”

Squeaky stops up short. He looks up… he doesn’t have to look up, too much. Chief’s leaning down. Convenient. He shuts up. Ugh. Dragon breath. He takes a half-step back; then gives Master Cheif a level look. “I’m quiet. Get out of my face, lizard breath.”

Squeaky’s deadly staring contest with the dragon is interrupted by a wet thwap. He staggers, slipping in the mud, and falling on the side of the path. “Bloody!” The gnome curses loudly. “Sam!” He yells out. Looks at the dragon. “Saaam!” he calls in an angry stage whisper. “You lout.”

Squeaky wipes the mud from his face, with a grimace.

Suddenly, a clod of mud comes soaring out of the forest, thwapping on Squeaky, knocking him to the ground, the splash impressive and thoroughly coating the unwisely-low-to-the-ground dragonborn.

Master Chief stands from the gnome, and wipes the mud off his face. He then looks in the direction it came from, points, and glares.

Then, hearing the woods echo Squeaky’s outburst, Master Chief turns on the insolent gnome. In one swift action he grabs Squeaky and hurls him at Sam, knocking them both to the ground. He then shouts “That’s the last I want to hear out of both of you until we’re there! Do you understand?!?!”

The gnome crashes head-first into the bushes, landing on his guitar with a loud, echoing CLONK! that can be heard throughout the forest.

Sam gets up, taps Squeaky on the shoulder, points back in the direction of the party, and moves forward, attempting to hide himself again. He must be shaken – a rustle in the trees is clearly visible.

“You’re being too loud.” Squeaky tells Master Chief, as he returns to the road, picking leaves out of his cloak. “You shouldn’t be shouting. We’re trying to be sneaky.”

Master Chief shoots one more deathly glare back at Squeaky, before moving forward again. He really hoped that would be enough, since his patience with this assignment had worn thin even before the bard had struck his first note.

A harsh whisper comes from behind Master Chief’s ear “I thought I made it clear you weren’t in charge”

Zankul looks back to address the Sergeant, “Someone’s got to keep those two from getting us all killed. If no one else is stepping up to it, you can assuredly expect that I will.”

“Are you going to follow orders or not?” Sparks flicker around Serai

“Yes… Sir.” replied Zankul, with a slight grumble in his tone.
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